Visible Girls Revisited: Female portrait project revived 36 years later

Amateur Photographer

The early 80s photography project has been updated after a viral campaign. We spoke to photographer Anita Corbin about her work


Visible Girls: Shelley Spencer and Di Sage, The White Swan in Crystal Palace, London, November 1980/ Shelley Spencer and Di Sage, Les Passeroses Angouleme in France, May 2017, Credit: Anita Corbin Amateur Photographer

The original photography project Visible Girls featured 28 double portraits of street-smart, punk, and rockabilly women in early 1980s.

Popular when it was released, interest in the collection has surged in recent years after photographer Anita Corbin’s attempts to reunite with her original subjects.

Read more!

Now, with 75% of the women found and photographed once more, Visible Girls is about to get another new exhibition across the UK.

Corbin told Amateur Photographer about the inspiration behind the project“I think it’s important to show what real women look like.”

“As a young woman photographer of age 22, I was acutely aware of how I wanted to create images that people would be able to identify with,” she added

Liz and Jan, The Blitz in Covent Garden, December 1980, Credit: Anita Corbin Amateur Photographer

Corbin began taking the photographs in 1980 at the beginning of her career in clubs and pubs around London.

Being one of the only photographers to be taking images of women subcultures in colour came with its own technical challenges in the dark locations. To combat this, she had to use a big portable flash on slow colour negative film.

The resulting images capture the essence of that time for women in Britain, emerging from adolescence in changing political climate where the first female prime minister had been voted in with Margaret Thatcher.

“Love her or hate her, she was the first woman prime minister and that was a massive milestone in our lives as young women,” Corbin said.

She continued: “I do feel that we were lucky in some ways because we had the liberation and feminism that had gone before us but we also had the punk, which gave a bit of a hard edge to that political side of things.

“It meant that anything went, everything was being thrown up in the air and nothing was normal.”

Kate and friend, The Royalty Southgate, March 1981(Left)/Kate and friend, Radisson Blue Edwardian in Seven Dials, London, December 2014 (Right), Credit: Anita Corbin Amateur Photographer

Visible Girls toured the UK in the 80s and 90s, displayed in youth clubs, town halls and libraries to great success.

Ten years later, Corbin tried to revisit the project but found that phone numbers had long been changed and people had moved on.

It was only with the rise of social media that she has been able to reconnect with the women who have since spread all over the world from New Mexico to Australia.

Corbin set out to meet and re-photograph them in a bid to document how their lives have since changed.

“I think that meeting the women now, who are in their mid-fifties most of them, and 36 years on in their lives, obviously everyone has changed a little bit but they’ve still got that spark that they had when they were 13, 14 and 15,” she said.

Red Ladies, The Blitz in Covent Garden, January 1981, Credit: Anita Corbin Amateur Photographer

However, the revisited project has not been all about change. She recently went back to The Blitz Club in Covent Garden to discover that it is now a gentlemen’s club.

“It’s a bit of statement on how far we haven’t come. Especially now around all the recent press about men preying on women and using their power,” she said.

So what is the importance of having these images exhibited again now?

Corbin said: “I think it’s really important to have powerful, strong images of independent, confident young women that our children and their children can look at and get a message that as long as you’re yourself, you should be able to be okay.”

Continues below…

There are still some people who Corbin and her team haven’t been able to locate. So if any of these women look familiar to you, join them on social media to help find them at @Visible_Girls.

The exhibition begins at the Exeter Phoenix in Exeter from November 17 to December 21, 2017, before moving to the Norwich Arts Centre from February 7 to March 14, 2018 and then to the Trinity Centre in Bristol from September 6 to October 4, 2018. More galleries are also set to be announced shortly.

Outbrain